Arlene Foster: DUP has no regrets about backing Brexit

The leader of the DUP has said her party has no regrets about backing Brexit, insisting it can still be delivered in a way that protects the Union.

Arlene Foster said her party had yet to decide whether to back the Prime Minister’s call for a general election but she did express concern at his proposed timeline, suggesting it might not provide sufficient time to scrutinise his Brexit deal in Parliament.

Ms Foster was speaking to the PA news agency ahead of the DUP’s annual conference in Belfast – an event at which last year Boris Johnson pledged to delegates that he would never create economic borders in the Irish Sea.

On Friday, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA accused Mr Johnson of “walking away” from that commitment, given the checks envisaged in the new deal struck with the EU.

But she rejected the suggestion the DUP had been naive to take his November 2018 pledge at face value.

“I think it’s for him to reflect on his words because we are not the people who have changed our position, it’s him who has changed his position,” she said.

“We always have and we try to have outside speakers come along and engage with our people – he made commitments on our stage last year that he has clearly walked away from, so it’s more a case he needs to reflect on what he said.”

Ms Foster declined to state whether she now trusted the Prime Minister.

“We trust ourselves and we trust ourselves to do what’s right for Northern Ireland,” she said when asked.

“When we saw the outline of what he’d agreed, we knew that it was not going to be a good deal for Northern Ireland.”

On claims about DUP naivety, she added: “I don’t think that’s the case. I mean, yes, everybody does know what Boris Johnson is like, we have to respect the fact that the man is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, we are put in a position where we can try and influence what he does and what his government does.

“We’re using that influence. And when we don’t agree with them, we’ll call it out.

“And that’s what we’ve done now, we’ve called it out.”

On next week’s general election vote, Ms Foster indicated her party had misgivings about the time Mr Johnson was suggesting for scrutiny of the Withdrawal bill.

“We backed the Prime Minister previously, when he’s looked for a general election, because it has simply been a general election he’s been looking for,” she said.

“But this general election that he’s talking about at this moment in time is actually linked to the withdrawal agreement.

“What he’s trying to do is to shorten the length of time where we can actually scrutinise the Bill and put down amendments to that as well. So, we have to look at that in the round and say, is this the right thing for Northern Ireland? To go along with this, or should we actually not vote for his election on Monday and actually look at the Withdrawal Agreement in a longer period of time?

“So those are the things we have to discuss this weekend and then come to a decision on Monday.”

Ms Foster was asked whether she regretted backing Brexit in 2016, given the prospect that Northern Ireland could leave the EU on different terms from the rest of the UK.

“I don’t regret the party’s position on Brexit, we campaigned for Brexit, we believed in Brexit,” she said.

“We still believe in Brexit because we believe it’s right to leave the European Union institutions. And you know, believing in Brexit and strongly believing in the Union are not mutually exclusive.

“We want to see a Brexit deal delivered that protects the Union because for me, the most important single market is the United Kingdom single market.

“And the difficulty with where we are at the moment with this deal is the fact that it breaks up the UK single market and leaves us outside of it.”

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